Wim Wenders’ 1987 masterpiece, Wings of Desire, is, almost certainly, one of the most thought provoking and poignant films ever committed to celluloid. Following Damiel, an angel observing life in pre-reunification Berlin, as he wanders the streets of the city listening to its citizens’ innermost thoughts, Wings of Desire is a hugely reflective piece of work.
The angels can hear people’s thoughts, but they can do nothing more than observe or silently comfort, and the troubles and tribulations affecting Berlin at this time only serve to make this worse, with many of its residents living in various states of suffering. This frustration is the crux of the film; what if listening simply isn’t enough anymore? This is apparent in Damiel and, after he falls in love with a beautiful but lonely trapeze artist, he wants something more than the ability to listen; he wants to be heard.
Damiel’s decision to abdicate his supernatural powers to live as a human is one born from love, but one influenced by a painful inability to connect with people. This is a decision that proves to be a good one; he experiences everything he envied in humanity – he is finally able to live. When he meets the woman he abdicated his power for, he is finally able to love – everything he ever desired.
Many critics have drawn comparisons between Wings of Desire and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death but, despite featuring a vastly similar plot to that somewhat overrated film, Wenders’ masterpiece has more in common with Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) or Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), both of which are deeply introspective examinations of humanity and spirituality.
Wings of Desire doesn’t attempt to dig as deep as either of these films, but is quietly affecting in its own way. Wenders creates a meditative, elegiac tone throughout his film with rare patience; he takes the time to set the atmosphere without the burden of plot. Without plot, there is nothing to occupy ourselves with and we let the perfectly formed atmosphere wash over us, giving us space to think and time to reflect.